PGA Championship 2016: Biggest Winners and Losers from Baltusrol

Lyle Fitzsimmons@@fitzbitzFeatured ColumnistJuly 31, 2016

PGA Championship 2016: Biggest Winners and Losers from Baltusrol

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    Eric Sucar-USA TODAY Sports

    The 2016 PGA Championship has come and gone, and with it another season of major tournament golf.

    Jimmy Walker, a quality PGA Tour player who'd never gotten appreciably close to a win in one of the four spotlight tournaments, finally broke through to the big time Sunday evening with a one-shot defeat of defending PGA champ Jason Day.

    Walker had a three-shot lead after he birdied No. 17, but he was forced to sweat things out after Day eagled No. 18 to get within one. Walker hit his approach to the par-five 18th into the rough alongside the green but then safely chipped to the putting surface and two-putt for the title-clinching par.

    Daniel Summerhays was in third place, four shots off the pace, while Branden Grace, Hideki Matsuyama and Brooks Koepka tied for fourth, five shots back.

    Overall, it was a week of stops and starts, dribs and drabs and a tournament that'll be as much remembered for its non-play challenges as for the way its top finishers navigated 72 holes in northern New Jersey.

    Here are all of the winners and losers from the wrap-up to the major season.

Winner: Jimmy Walker

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    Eric Sucar-USA TODAY Sports

    This was by no means Jimmy Walker’s first rodeo.

    The Oklahoma native had five PGA Tour wins and three more on the Web.com Tour and wasn’t too far removed from a career-defining 2014 in which he made the cut at all four majors and finished in the top 10 in three of them—topped off by a tie for seventh at the PGA Championship.

    But given his so-so performances since, including zero top-20s and three missed cuts in seven subsequent majors, there was little reason to believe this week at Baltusrol would be his breakthrough.

    Wrong. Wrong. Wrong.

    The 37-year-old set a successful tone by going 65/66 in his initial two rounds on Thursday and Friday, respectively, then ground through Sunday’s 36-hole marathon with nary a blink. He fired a 68 to put himself in position early on the final day. Then he wrapped up with a 67 over the final 18 while never allowing his hottest pursuers, recent major champions Jason Day and Henrik Stenson, to cause too much of a stir.

    A chip-in for birdie from a greenside bunker at No. 10 showed Walker’s homestretch mettle, and the twisting, turning birdie putt he poured in one hole later upped his lead from one shot to two and provided the cushion he never surrendered. 

    Day's eagle on the 18th did trim the lead from three to one as Walker teed off on the final hole, but he was able to overcome a shaky approach into the rough with a solid chip to the green and a two-putt for the win.

    "(Day) really put it on me to make par," he told CBS Sports' Bill Macatee during the broadcast. "Sometimes pars are hard, but we got it. It was amazing. It really was."

Losers: Big Four Cut-Missers

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    Brian Spurlock-USA TODAY Sports

    If the fourth-ranked player in the world is ringside at a boxing match on the night before a 36-hole final day at a major championship, chances are he’s not much of a factor.

    That was precisely the case for Rory McIlroy, who was spotted by Showtime’s cameras at Barclays Center, watching countryman Carl Frampton in a big fight. McIlroy's own participation at Baltusrol was cut short thanks to a bogey that closed his second round and ensured he’d miss the weekend.

    Meanwhile, world No. 2 Dustin Johnson did not have an easier time of things during a brief chase for the Wanamaker Trophy.

    The reigning U.S. Open champ shot 77 in the opening round on Thursday and was in desperate need of a low number to stay alive. Johnson managed just a single birdie against three bogeys on Friday while shooting 72 and missing the weekend by eight shots.

Winner: Kerry Haigh and His Staff

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    Thomas J. Russo-USA TODAY Sports

    It wasn't hard to find people throwing shade at Kerry Haigh.

    The PGA championship's top official was getting significant grief for the way he and his staff handled things during Saturday's torrential rain washout, which necessitated players to go 36 holes on Sunday.

    But instead of starting groups at both the first and 10th tees or shifting from pairings to threesomes to speed play and ensure a Sunday finish, Haigh decided to retain as close to a major championship feel as possible. He banked on the idea that the heavens would hold their water long enough to allow play to finish without needing an extra day.

    "It's a major championship," Haigh told the media on Saturday, per the Sydney Morning Herald, "and we want it to be ran and perform as a major championship."

    As luck would have it, he was right on the money.

    The course hardly looked any worse for wear on television. And though showers did arrive intermittently throughout Sunday's tee-to-green marathon, there was never the sort of thunder and lightning that necessitated a stoppage, which meant Jimmy Walker was free to hoist the Wanamaker Trophy with sunlight to spare at 7:30 p.m.

Loser: Reigning "Best Player to Never Win a Major"

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    Brian Spurlock-USA TODAY Sports

    It’s the title that no professional player wants: Best Player to Never Win a Major.

    In fact, two of the top five players in the world—No. 2 Dustin Johnson and No. 5 Henrik Stenson—have disliked it so much that they rid themselves of it with respective triumphs at this year’s U.S. Open (Johnson) and Open Championship (Stenson).

    But Rickie Fowler remains stuck.

    The 27-year-old American seemed on the verge of a major breakthrough after a remarkable 2014 run in which he finished no worse than a fifth-place tie in the year’s four Grand Slam events.

    Ever since, though, it’s been an uphill climb. He was no better than a tie for 12th in the four majors last year, and missed cuts at the 2016 Masters and U.S. Open preceded a nondescript tie for 46th at the Open Championship two weekends ago.

    He bettered fellow world top-10 players Johnson and McIlroy just by making the weekend, but a first-round deficit of three strokes grew to five and then eight over the subsequent two rounds—making his final-round score of 70 just window dressing on the way to a tie for 33rd place, 11 shots behind.

Winner: Rich Beem's Fan Friendliness

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    Good guy Rich Beem won the PGA Championship in 2002, beating Tiger Woods by a single shot.

    But to say he's not done much since is an understatement of particularly friendly proportions.

    In fact, the Arizona native hasn't won a single event since, lost his PGA Tour card and has most recently been earning paychecks as a commentator and analyst for Sky Sports in the United Kingdom. He hasn't actually played a Grand Slam tournament other than the PGA Championship since he withdrew from the 2008 U.S. Open.

    Clearly, though, the fans haven't forgotten him.

    Now 45 years old, Beemer picked up some long-overdue TV and internet face time Sunday, when he chipped in from the gallery for a birdie on the par-four fifth hole. Beem reveled in the swarm of well-wishers who enveloped him after the ball dropped in.

    It was the cherry on top of a week in which he made the cut at a major for the first time in four years.

    "It feels awesome," he told reporters after Thursday's opening-round 69, per Golfweek. "It feels great."

Losers: PGA Friday Rules Officials

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    Christopher Hanewinckel-USA TODAY Sports

    It's challenging enough to play a major championship in iffy weather conditions.

    But when you don't know where the pins are placed, it goes from challenging to ridiculous.

    Players heading out for Friday's second round were provided a sheet with an incorrect location for their first hole of the day—the par-four 10th—and the issue wasn't addressed until the initial group hit approach shots.

    It became a significant issue for 31-year-old Ohio native Colt Knost, who wound up bogeying the hole and spent the day sweating the cut line before ultimately making the weekend right on the 36-hole number of 142.

    And he predictably was not pleased with the scenario.

    "We just expect the pin (sheet) to be right," Knost said, per Golf Channel. "It’s a big deal. It’s a big difference. It shouldn’t happen in tournaments like this."

Winner: The Run of First-Time Major Champions

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    Thomas J. Russo-USA TODAY Sports

    First-time major winners at the PGA Championship are by no means a unique 21st-century sight.

    From the unheralded likes of Rich Beem and Shaun Micheel in 2002 and 2003, respectively, to certifiably great but waiting-for-a-breakthrough performers such as Jason Day last year, the Sunday evening presentation of the Wanamaker Trophy often equates to a coming-out party.

    But this year’s win by Jimmy Walker continues an even bigger trend.

    The Oklahoma native’s win was the second consecutive PGA—and fifth consecutive major—in which the winner was breaking through to the Grand Slam event level for the first time.

    Day’s win last year kicked off the trend and has since been followed by 2016 first-timers Danny Willett (Masters), Dustin Johnson (U.S. Open) and Henrik Stenson (Open Championship).

    Only Day provided even a fleeting challenge down the stretch, and a repeat by him would have created the first back-to-back PGA wins since Tiger Woods pulled it off in both 1999-2000 and 2006-07.

    Instead, it was the first time since 2011Charl Schwartzel, Rory McIlroy, Darren Clarke and Keegan Bradley—that all four big-stage events went to newbies. Before that, it had last happened when Mike Weir, Jim Furyk, Ben Curtis and Micheel became major winners in 2003.

Loser: Hideki Matsuyama's Putter

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    Eric Sucar-USA TODAY Sports

    Chances are good that Hideki Matsuyama will ultimately be a major champion.

    But the reality is the 24-year-old might have hoisted the Wanamaker Trophy this week had he been able to control one more club in his bag: the putter.

    He was four shots off the pace of leader Jimmy Walker to start his final 18 holes on Sunday, and the fact that he got through the entire Baltusrol layout without a single fourth-round bogey indicates that his drives and approach shots were precisely where they needed to be all day long.

    Problem is, his putts almost never were.

    No matter what hole Matsuyama was playing on Sunday, the narrative hardly changed.

    Whenever the CBS cameras zoomed in to show him with a solid birdie chance, the ball managed to go left, right, short or long...but never in.

    In fact, he birdied just two holes, the 11th and 18th.

    It got so bad, in fact, that on-course commentator Frank Nobilo chimed in after a particularly galling combination on the 17thwhen Matsuyama stuck an iron shot within five feet of the flag, then strode onto the green and missed the near-gimme putt.

    "If he putted well, he’d be on top of the board," Nobilo said. "I feel sorry for him."

Winner: Going Wire-to-Wire

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    Doug Pensinger/Getty Images

    It wasn’t the sort of dominance that Rory McIlroy laid on the PGA Championship field when he won by eight strokes in 2012, or even Tiger Woods’ brand of crowd control when he lapped the field by five shots in 2006.

    Nevertheless, Jimmy Walker did something this week that neither of them even managed.

    Walker’s one-stroke win at Baltusrol was wire-to-wire in variety, after he strung together rounds of 65, 66 and 68 to either hold or share the lead through 18, 36 and 54 holes and then ended with a 67 to finish it off over nearest competitor Jason Day.

    It was the first beginning-to-end win at the PGA since Phil Mickelson turned the trick at Baltusrol in 2005, and it made Walker the seventh player to do so overall. He was preceded by Bobby Nichols in 1964, Raymond Floyd in 1969 and 1982, Hal Sutton in 1983, Nick Price in 1994 and Woods in 2000.

Losers: Competitive Club Professionals

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    Brian Spurlock-USA TODAY Sports

    No one's expecting the typical club professional to compete shot for shot at a major with the Jason Days, Jordan Spieths and Henrik Stensons of the world.

    That said, to expect at least one of the 20 club pros in the PGA Championship field to still be playing the weekend didn't seem like too overwhelming of a request.

    Instead, for the second time in three years, none were around for the third and fourth rounds—meaning none followed up on the admirable performance of 44-year-old New Jersey native Brian Gaffney, who reached the final two rounds and was 71st overall in 2015.

    Wisconsin's Ryan Helminen was the nearest to extended play this time around, shooting a one-over-par 71 on Friday to finish a single shot away from the cut line of 142.

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